PBS // 2010 // 53 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // January 29th, 2011
The story of one of the most efficient carnivores on earth.
Vowing to avenge the death of his father and determined to stop a megalomaniacal villain from taking over the world, Kit Walker dons his skintight purple costume and transforms himself into "The Phantom." His mission is difficult enough, but making matters even more complicated is the fact that Kit has an angry bounty hunter on his tail: Wolverine. Abandoning the X-Men and taking on a new profession as a hired gun...er, claw...Wolverine has accepted a generous payment from the villainous Xander Drax and has vowed to take The Phantom down. Who will win the battle of this peculiar crossover? Find out in Wolverine: Chasing the Phantom.
Ah, just kidding. As I'm sure you've already figured out by glancing at the cover art, this is a nature documentary, not a straight-to-DVD comic book extravaganza. Fortunately, this 53-minute doc gives us a quick yet engaging look at the lives of real-life wolverines; creatures that most of us have heard of but few of us are really familiar with. At a first glance, they don't look like much: something of a cross between a cat, a beaver and a marmot, perhaps. Even so, wolverines are alarmingly tenacious creatures; 30-pound scrappers willing to take on beasts 20 times their size without hesitation (and often winning these conflicts). When they kill their prey, they usually eat the meat and the bones. "They really seem to like teeth," one biologist comments. Another dissects a dead wolverine and says that his stomach feels like bag of gravel, as it's filled with the bones of other animals.
It's estimated that some 15,000 to 19,000 wolverines live in Canada, but this documentary focuses primarily on wolverines living in the United States. For one reason or another, they've become very scarce in this country, as no more than 40-50 wolverines have been sighted within a single region in recent times. Wolverines can live reasonably well in captivity (there are over 100 in zoos across the U.S.), but they're extraordinarily uncomfortable mating with lots of people watching (as am I, for that matter). As such, it's very difficult to breed wolverines in captivity and just as difficult to actually raise the children to adulthood successfully.
To give credit to the filmmakers, Wolverine: Chasing the Phantom doesn't overplay the ferocious nature of wolverines, but rather paints them as shy, amiable creatures which can be alarmingly bold when it comes to obtaining food. Wolverines seem to employ stealth techniques even when no one is close by, and we see the enormous struggles scientists have in coaxing wolverines to come out of hiding so they can be studied in the wild. Their privacy makes the occasional appearances they make a real treat: "If I see a wolverine in the wild, that just makes my day," one scientist beams. "It doesn't happen very often, but I'm so happy when it does."
The 1080i/1.78:1 transfer is solid enough, nicely capturing the breathtaking, snow-covered landscapes the film visits and offering respectable detail throughout. While I wish the special had been presented in 1080p (there are moments that could have looked stunning with a greater level of detail), what we get is nothing to sneeze at. A handful of scenes comprised of full-frame archival footage don't look so great, but that's to be expected. Audio is also solid throughout, with a soundtrack mostly dominated by music and narration (the latter is a little rambunctiously over-the-top, but I suppose David Attenborough isn't available for everything). Some of the archival dialogue is a little muffled, but nothing to be concerned about. There are no extras whatsoever on the disc, which seems a bit of a cheat given the brief running time of the main feature -- why not take the National Geographic approach and includes a bonus special on a similar animal/theme?
Wolverine: Chasing the Phantom isn't a mind-blowing experience by any stretch of the imagination, but it's a well-produced, informative look at a very interesting creature. Worth a look for those who enjoy this sort of thing.
Not guilty. Or should that be not grrrrrlty? Nah, we'll stick with not
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 53 Minutes
Release Year: 2010
MPAA Rating: Not Rated